As willing (or even unwilling) citizens of the Connected Age trying to build a strong online reputation, we are constantly barraged with various communications channels such as emails, social networks, newsfeeds, and blogs.
The barriers to entry are often non-existent; most accounts are free to sign-up and take only minutes to fill out some minimal information about ourselves. So we sign up again and again, filling out profile after profile, convincing ourselves that this is time well-spent. After all, we are using yet another tool to promote ourselves online and get better connected with our target audience, and that’s how we can build our brand online.
But as we try to keep up with the latest tools and newest features, we realize the time sink that we are creating for ourselves by maintaining all of these accounts. Then just as quickly, we let them drop off. Inconsistent or outdated information will then litter unattended profiles, turning potentially useful tools into a poor reflection of our professional habits and selves.
Does any of this sound familiar to you? It should, because it represents the majority of users out there. According to a recent study, anyone who says that they have an online profile will most likely have at least four profiles on sites they can name, and another four that they’ve forgotten about. Those forgotten profiles are just one example of how an unfocused and poorly maintained online identity can dilute your career brand. Your target audience can just as likely pull up a neglected profile as they can one that is well-maintained, and you run the risk of losing an opportunity of promoting yourself properly to that audience.
So what can you do to maintain a healthy online reputation? Here are a number of tips to ensure that your brand online truly represents you:
- Before anything else, know your target audience(s). Where are you likely to intersect online, or where will they likely go online when they want to look for someone like you? Do your research on how to best reach your audience before selecting your promotional tools.
- Research your tools of choice. Each has its own unique features, target audiences and advantages. Likewise, each also comes with their own set of trade-offs. Consider your career-branding strategy, and what combination of tools will best support that strategy while minimizing tool redundancy. When you make a tool choice, maximize its value to your strategy by learning all of its features, not just enough to get by.
- When beginning, settle on 1 or 2 sites of choice, and commit to them. Any more will run you the risk of leaving some unattended, thus diluting your brand. It’s ok to have profiles on other sites, but on ones other than your targets, make it clear where to go for the latest updates and best way to reach you, and provide either a link or other reference to those preferred sites.
- Keep your profile content trim, neat and focused. Treat online profiles as you would any other promotional collateral, such as a resume. Make sure that it reflects your focus. It’s ok to show diversity in skills in experience, but just remember; there’s a fine line between being viewed as a ‘renaissance’ entrepreneur or a handyman that will do anything for a buck.
- Avoid a collision of your worlds. Since many people use social networks for personal and professional lives, it’s important to draw the line. The best practice is to keep friends on one network and colleagues on another. Sometimes a collision of the two worlds can cause issues in either one.
- Be aware of privacy settings on the social networks. If you do choose to use one network for both personal and professional use, some such as Facebook, now have the ability to filter content by audience.
- For professional networks, you will always be the loser if you play the numbers game. Having too many people in your network gives people the wrong message. If you’re connecting with just anyone, your network doesn’t view you as someone who puts any value on the connection. Maintaining a unwieldy network can get in the way of building and maintaining strong relationships with relevant and useful connections.
- Don’t ‘friend’ people you don’t know. Too many irrelevant connections, or connections with people you do not know well diminishes the value of your network to you and to others in your network. A good rule of thumb is that if you cannot confidently refer someone on your network to someone else, then they probably shouldn’t be in your network.
- Do not start a blog that you are committed to maintaining on a very regular basis. If it looks like you abandoned the effort, this reflects poorly on your focus and follow-through. Establish expectations with your blogging audience on the expected posting frequency on the blog itself and commit to it.
- Assess your tools of choice regularly, and trim as needed as part of your career-branding maintenance routine. Review their features and relevancy to your goals and strategy, and either work on improving the value you get from them, or get rid of them. But be careful; switching tools too often can confuse and frustrate audiences, so only switch if you feel confident you can get significantly more value by making a move.
- Maintain your connections, or get rid of them. If you have connected with someone over a year ago, have not communicated since, it’s time to either make the effort to renew that relationship or trim them. Remember that network relevance is key to its health. If you are afraid of offending someone, just keep in mind that many sites offer ways to remove members from your network subtly without having to notify them.
- Use something to keep track of your social networking ID’s. There are a number of tools designed to manage multiple networks, but because the space is growing and changing regularly, it’s difficult to find a truly universal tool. So sometimes the best solution is also the easiest. Simply keep your account IDs in the notes section of a ‘me’ contact in your Outlook. You’ll always know where to look, and if it syncs with other address books, it is always with you.
If you are reading this article, you already have an inkling that your online reputation is going to be an increasingly important component of your professional life. So, to that end, think of your online reputation just as you do your credit. Both need to be monitored carefully to ensure a healthy rating. Sometimes it’s necessary to correct bad or outdated information, or to close out old, unused accounts that are doing more harm than good. And just like your credit, you should be maintaining your online reputation regularly, not just when you need it.